My first impression of Rocksmith 2014 is that I’m simply blown away at how well it just works with an actual guitar. In a single week, I’ve progressed more in my playing ability as a beginner than I had on my own several months prior simply because something about this game just works for me, over say, YouTube or guitar tabs. Anyone who loves to make learning an instrument fun: this is the way to do it. There have been many improvements made over its previous iteration.
Hardware: The game comes with a proprietary patch-to-USB cable that you connect any compatible guitar (or bass) to the console. There is a decent enough length that I was able to route it around the TV and still sit a decent distance from the console itself. For the input, you use a real guitar with a patch jack, rather than a toy-like guitar controller other games have used; and can handle a pretty extensive range of tuning unlike the first Rocksmith. I should note that the quality of your guitar does matter to a degree. Most of my playtime was done with an old cheap practice electric guitar which had issues. For one it did not read too well with songs using ‘drop C’ settings and it only had 21 frets. This made it difficult to play Avenged Sevenfold songs, or songs that went to 23 frets. I borrowed a more expensive and much higher quality guitar to compare; and it was a noticeably improved experience. You get what you pay for in this case. Rockband 2014 can be set to teach you as a lead guitarist, rhythm, or bass (provided the song track has them supported)
For the audio portion; the game, as far as I’ve been able to tell, uses the real audio from the original songs. If you want the fullest auditory experience, you can connect your console/pc to higher end speaker equipment. (This is a huge plus for me, as Guitar Hero used different singers from their original songs and it drove me nuts)
The interface will seem familiar to anyone that has played either Rockband or Guitar Hero. The first thing I did was just jump straight into Learn a Song; where you’re taken to a list of available music (which can be expanded via DLC songs). Before any song starts, the game will test to ensure you are set to the right tuning for that particular song. This works very well and is pretty intuitive. Also, it is an upgrade compared to the first game that once tuned, you don’t have to re-tune as long as you keep playing songs of that same tuning. Furthermore, it’s just easier to jump into as you can play any song you like without having to get a certain score in a set list. Once the music starts, you’ll be met with the incoming notes hat align with the music. Below them, you see your guitar’s chords and finger placement. At the beginner levels of a song you’ll only get a note or two every few seconds to get familiar with roughly where your hand ought to be during that part. The difficulty is dynamic; the better you play, the harder it gets. Unlike the other two franchises mentioned prior, this isn’t about just pressing buttons fast: the ‘expert’ mode in this game is straight-up playing the actual song note for note.
Riff repeater is an in-song option you can activate to section out and loop a certain part of the song. This is pretty much the unsung hero of this game as you can manipulate the speed and difficulty to get a better feel of what order the notes come in at. This is also the best way to learn parts of a song that give you the most trouble and will actively score how well you handled it each loop it does with a counter. A perfect tool especially for faster songs that you just can’t seem to register the note changes in time during its normal speed play-through.
If you’re looking to play a set list of songs back to back, you can also go to Nonstop Play mode. The settings have set minutes up to 90, and you can choose what songs you want in the playlist. Good for those who lose track of time such as myself. An interesting play mode is the Session Mode; where you pretty much play free-style and the game will try to match beat and rhythm with you using designated instruments you choose prior to starting. Admittedly I’m not the most musically inclined on the technical terms so it wasn’t for me, but I can see the appeal for others easily and that’s good enough for me.
Lessons is the building block of your skills once you start reaching about 20% mastery on the songs you like. The lessons start with a video to teach you a technique, then will switch to game mode to make you practice it. While not the perfect replacement for an actual guitar teacher; it is as good as it gets. I consider it to be one of the best tutorials I’ve come across personally for learning; especially compared to something like written tabs. It covers nearly all the playing basics and can take you straight to advanced stages of guitar playing once you become skilled enough with your instrument. Again, the quality of your guitar will matter more here as the practicing portions are much pickier about your performance. Perfect practice makes perfect performance after all.
Guitarcade is an interesting game mode where you pretty much play minigames with your guitar. It’s actually a clever form of practice as each minigame focuses on different aspects such as strumming intensity and some for note changing. Again, like any instrument the practice is the most important foundation and this is a neat little way to make it more fun rather than tedious.
Multiplayer mode works essential the same way, but your screen is halved horizontally to accommodate a second instrument. It should go without saying that you’ll also need another patch cable and a friend to use this.
Tone designer will let you create you’re own sound for your guitar. There are a lot of choices at play including various signature amplifiers, speakers, foot pedals, and other auxiliary thing that affect the sound of your guitar. It takes a little know-how to get the sound you want as it doesn’t seem to explain their effects too well. I just went the trail and error path if getting what I want. Also, you can unlock skins for your speakers and amps via challenges and guitarcade mode.
The shop and Uplay are pretty much what you’d expect. You can purchase individual songs or song-packs that include 3-4 songs of the same artist. At the time of this writing there were no expansion packs available yet so I won’t comment on that part. If there was one major gripe I had with this game it would be the cost of the songs. While all the Jimmy Hendrix songs were free, all other songs were 2.99 each (singularly) This gets real expensive fast especially when the top 20 songs I enjoyed playing the most were almost all dlc. This makes for an expensive game when you factor it’s full price and you need to buy your own guitar. That being said, if money is no factor to you then there are a ton of great songs to choose from and counting. I did buy quite a few for myself with leftover Christmas cash and I did not regret. (Who knew I’d actually love to play a Maroon 5 song?)
All in all, the pros of this game far outweigh the cons, and is one of the few games that will teach you the skill for something outside of the game itself. Personally I plan to take what I’ve learned thus far and begin playing video-game based music. Despite this not having been a great year for Ubisoft’s reputation, given the controversy over their other better known titles; this is practically a hidden gem that deserves more, of not the most, spotlight for their category this past year in my opinion.